Succeeding in the world of sports photography take a great amount of dedication and determination, not forgetting the creativity and passion that forms the basis of this fascinating niche.
This is something that commercial freelance location photographer, Matt Ben Stone, has discovered during his career. Over the past six years, he has worked with a variety of brands and design agencies to creatively capture their campaign ideas through the art of photography. From cycling apparel campaigns shot in remote locations to photographing sports drinks in yoga studios, Matt has some fantastic experiences to share with budding sports photographers.
Since graduating from Bournemouth Arts University with a BA(Hons) in Photography, Matt has developed an incredibly deep relationship with photography, both on location and in the studio. We were thrilled to hear all about Matt’s career as a Sports Location Photographer, something which you can find out more about, here in this post.
How did you end up as a sports location photographer?
I’m a keen cyclist and the two evolved together over time, starting with photographing friends for fun and then gradually for smaller bike brands, snowballing to where I am today. Being a sportsman myself, it does give me an appreciation and understanding for the athletes, allowing me to explore the subject further through the lens.
I try to show different perspectives if shooting a race. I feel it is not all just about what is happening on the course - there is a lot in the peripheral that often gets dismissed, which helps build the bigger picture. I am always trying to bring something to the table that no one else would capture.
Tell us about your most memorable shoots
A commission that will stay with me for a long time was in September this year, photographing Denise Korenek Mueller breaking the world speed record on a bicycle on the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah.
The record was set during the Speed Week event, which is motorsport bucket list stuff. It’s an incredible place to visit, deadpan flat and rich sunlight makes for supreme conditions. It was a fantastic privilege to be embedded as the photographer for Denise, documenting her and the team’s time on the salt and the moment she broke the record. I still can’t believe it - it was/is an incredible feat to be traveling at 184 mph, let alone on a bicycle!
The Red Hook Crit in Greenwich, London, a fixed gear circuit race, was slightly different to the usual cycling commission, as I was shooting the race from within a construction site, half of which, the course ran through. This is something that is pretty unique for any vehicular race circuit.
I had the opportunity to be in a position that was exclusive which, in a public race environment, is almost unheard of. I knew the content I created would be remarkable, not only for myself but for the client, too. My favourite location was in one of the high-rise buildings under construction, shooting from height to create aerial perspectives. In order to get around the site, I was fully kitted out in protective gear hard hat and boots, making carrying all my gear slightly cumbersome. The images were definitely worth walking up all the flights of steps, though.
A few years back, I was at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. I remember being in the pits, shooting some details of an iconic racing Mercedes, a 300 SLR in which Stirling Moss won the 1955 Mille Miglia. A crowd started to gather around the other side of the car, and Sir Stirling appeared. Dressed in his open-sided helmet and glasses, which he found were smeared and needed cleaning. He beckoned to his entourage to help, but their efforts were unsuccessful. I was in a unique position now, hemmed in by the crowds between the car, next to Sir Stirling. I realised that my lens cloth would be ideal and fetched it from my camera bag - after a short interaction he thanked me and the car left the pits. He was going to be driving the car for the last ever time, up the famous hill climb. I felt quite honoured to have this interaction with a racing legend.
What are your favourite kind of scenes to shoot?
Recently, I have been shooting frequently in the studio, which offers a different set of challenges from shooting on location. Dealing with minute reflections and highlights with complex set builds that require tweaking. However, I’m just as happy with an epic vista and athletes.
Tell us about your own camera kit, your recommendations and how you go about protecting your photography gear from harm.
What's in my bag(s) changes depending on the requirements of the assignment. I am always with my Peli case for the majority of commissions. Using it as a base to work out of in the field, it can double up as a mobile workstation for my assistant to check files/send rushes to the client, or an apple box for extra height. I have even used it as a seat with the handle up when waiting for travel connections.
Flying often requires a certain amount of preparation when it comes to working on the bags and the gear combination, what goes where. I use the Peli 1510, with the padded inserts and the pocket organiser lid so I can configure my gear as I need. It’s heavy enough to always draw attention from check in staff! This is supplemented by a smaller soft bag, either Billingham or Lowepro, for a complete camera hand luggage combo. When back from a commission, I will ‘reset’ the inserts to store my main gear when not in use.
I use equipment that I can rely on. I’m sometimes shooting in extreme conditions, so it’s well worth having gear I can trust to not let me down in rain, or when I am shooting tracking shots on the back of a rig.
I am a CPS (Canon Professional Services) member so I run with Canon gear, several pro bodies with a mixture of primes - this is my main camera kit that fits into the 1510. I also have a mirrorless system, Fuji X Pro2, which is great for BTS and personal work when travelling.
Minimal kit just isn’t me. Every job I think I can slim kit down but I am always carrying more kit than I need, just in case. When I have to be super quick and low-key, I shoot with one body and two lenses, typically my go to at the moment is something wide and fast and a mid-range portrait lens.
I have always preferred prime lenses - they’re often sharper than the zoom equivalent and help me to concentrate on creating the image through the viewfinder, rather than zooming to create a crop. Even at longer focal lengths I still shoot prime - for the World Record shoot I needed a 400mm! I do have a couple of zooms in the bag, and mainly have them as a backup, just in case, or when it’s not feasible to be changing - usually for tracking shots from a vehicle. I’m concentrating on the framing, giving instructions to the driver and trying not to get to travel sick!
As for lighting, it all depends on the job, but for location I prefer to use as much natural light as possible. If I need a little help I will use Profoto B1s. In the studio, I tend to have a flash set up using the Broncolor system.
Describe a typical day as a sports location photographer
The majority of commissions come from agencies, so the planning would start with meetings and emails, weeks or months before the shoot date. Then comes the recce - scouting the locations and making sure it has all that’s required for that particular shot.
Shoot days depend on the client’s requirements. Sometimes, these are set if the athlete or focus is at an event/race, so that the majority of variables are predetermined.
I can be working with Producers and Art Directors so that things run smoothly and that we are achieving exactly what the client wants as an end result. When the crews are smaller, often just myself and my assistant at events and races, I take on these roles, using my experienced judgement to make the calls.
Depending on the output, there can sometimes be very tight turnarounds, even immediately. If this is the case, I prefer to shoot tethered (if the situation allows) and working with my assistant to be able to process and output files. The majority of the time, I will be feeding cards to be ingested and backed up securely. The selects and edit happen in the studio, if no rushes are required.
Then de-rig, resetting, cleaning and charging all follow, ready for the next sunrise call time.
Quick turnarounds in the world of photography calls for a solid backup and storage process. Our range of protective memory card cases can help you to safely store multiple memory cards, working to keep your photography safe from harm.
Any tips for people who may be interested in looking to get into sports photography?
I still consider myself up and coming, but what I would say to anyone considering a career as a commercial photographer, you have to be dedicated and have a clear game plan in your head. It’s full on exciting and busy, but also can be quite the opposite if you’re not prepared to put the time in.
I started my commercial career assisting photographers who were working in fields I was interested in. I gained experience working on large campaigns with brands like Adidas, Nike and Canterbury. Whatever you do, make sure you have fun!
Many thanks to Matt for sharing his experiences with us here at Peli UK, and with our visitors too! If you would like to find out more about Matt Ben Stone and the work that he produces, head over to his portfolio for more information.
Any photographer’s kit is not complete without a waterproof, dustproof and shockproof hard camera case to protect expensive and irreplaceable equipment. Find out more about our hard camera cases and what features make them the best protective case for your photography gear.